Have you ever felt lost comforting a friend who was not feeling okay? You tried talking to them, but they only responded with a shrug. You tried making jokes, hoping to make them laugh, but that made them cry more instead. You bought them their favorite food, but they barely touched it.
In nursing practice, you may encounter similar challenges that may test your patience and compassion. Sometimes, doing your best may end up exhausting you, even when you want to care for your patients. Here are some tips on how you can practice empathy in this profession without getting too tired.
Clinical Empathy’s Role in Health Care
Effective communication between a nurse and their patients can improve quality of care, clinical outcomes, and patient satisfaction. Although this is the case, communication is the biggest challenge that nurses may encounter, and it may require more than experience and skills.
The Challenges Preventing Clinical Empathy Between Nurses and their Patients
As a nurse, you are one very busy person who moves quickly but carefully. The things you do are important to more than one person. Have you encountered or experienced any of these challenges?
- Not Having Enough Time: As a global nurse, you move efficiently from one sick person to another. This can be a challenge in nurturing affinity between you and your patient.
- Differences in Culture and Background: Due to cultural differences, understanding how the person you are caring for reacts and communicates can be challenging. You may encounter some of them doing self-treatment based on beliefs they had growing up. It can create friction between your words and their long-standing beliefs and practices.
- Family Interference: One of the most frequent communication barriers from the nurse’s viewpoint is interference by family members, according to a study on Communication Barriers Perceived by Nurses and Patients by the National Library of Medicine.¹ This can lead to people under the care of nurses not knowing how to care for themselves when no one is around.
- Barriers in Communication: You may have met people who are fluent only in a language you don’t speak. This may include other spoken languages or sign language. Communicating with them may require you to understand context clues and non-verbal cues.
- Personal Biases: Stereotyping may become a huge challenge in how you care for a patient. This may lead some to unconsciously treat patients differently.
- Burnout: Healthcare providers may feel emotionally and physically exhausted, leading to stress and irritability. A global shortage of registered nurses is likely to increase by 2023. A major cause of this shortage is burnout. The International Council of Nurses had estimated that the shortage can grow up to 13 million by 2030.²
Healthy Ways of Being Emphatic to Patients
Overcoming challenges in communication is possible. See how you can be more compassionate in addressing their needs and empathetic in speaking to them through these tips.
1. Challenge any prejudice you may have by taking the initiative to care.
Treat your patients with utmost respect and compassion without prejudice. See them as someone you can easily talk to and avoid thinking that you cannot approach them just because they seem to be of a different background.
To avoid any worries, step up and greet them first. How you start the conversation will set the mood in its entirety. Remember that you are there to care for them, so take the initiative.
2. Listen actively to your patients.
Displaying signs of active listening shows the person under your care that you feel for them, and it builds their trust. In doing this, you also gather the information you need for their recovery, which increases your competence and knowledge. It also broadens your perspective to know how their experiences compare to that of others.
Asking the exact questions, paraphrasing, and speaking brief verbal affirmations are all effective ways of active listening. Here are some sample statements.
“So, you want us to provide you…”
“I understand you aren’t happy with your current prescription.”
“Let me look into that for you.”
3. Be more creative in adapting to their learning strengths.
People learn in various ways and the people you take care of do, too. You may ask them about their preferences when it comes to talking about their current health. Some might require you to show a chart, some might ask you for imagery and photos, while some might ask you to lessen the details and get straight to the point.
According to Dean College, there are seven learning styles in adults, which may also affect how they communicate.³
- Kinesthetic Learner: The person may need hands-on involvement when it comes to explaining things about them and their stay at your facility. You may show them how things work, such as how to call for a nurse.
- Intrapersonal Learner: The person needs to learn on their own. Give them the information and they will process it when you leave.
- Interpersonal Learner: They may want to discuss things with you to understand their situation better. Give them some of your time and they will appreciate it.
- Linguistic Learner: Words and language are power to them. You may give them notes to help them remember, or they will on their own when they can. They might also remind you of things you’ve discussed if ever you visit them again on another one of your shifts.
- Auditory Learner: This individual learns almost like an interpersonal learner. They would like to hear from you. Recordings may also help them, so if you are comfortable with it, you can allow them to record portions of your conversation to help them take note of things.
- Visual Learner: they might ask you for pictures, x-rays, and charts to better discuss their health situation. You may want to provide them, if available, to communicate better.
- Logical Learner: Rather than looking at their entire case as a whole, they will analyze and break down whatever information you provide about them. Be calm in giving them all the details to their satisfaction, including their next steps to get better.
4. Don’t be defensive towards irate patients.
There are visible signs when a person’s temper is rising, such as the tightening of their jaw, tensing of their posture, clenching of their fists, fidgeting, and raising of their voice. These are signs that they are demanding what they think isn’t being provided by their caregivers.
In case they become verbally abusive towards you, keep your cool and your distance. Do not respond until they are done expressing themselves. Spend enough time with them to allow them to vent their feelings. Do not rush them or be defensive to avoid irritating them further. Listen carefully then address their needs once they have calmed down.
5. Include the family in the conversation to avoid interference.
If the person you’re caring for is with someone, always include them in the conversation. Be understanding and clear if they ask questions as well. Having them understand what to do can help the patient have a better experience because the guardian or family member can provide good aftercare when they get discharged.
6. Rest and take care of yourself.
You are inherently passionate and caring to be in the healthcare industry. Yes, your help is needed by many, but you also must take care of yourself to give excellent care to more patients.
- Set boundaries. It includes limiting your thoughts. When the shift is over, leave any thoughts of work behind. These boundaries help you care for your mental well-being.
- Get enough rest and sleep. It may involve treating yourself to your favorite food, going to the movies with friends, or getting a simple massage.
- Find people you can trust and talk to them. These people involve your closest friends or a therapist when you need one. Having someone you can talk to can lighten the burdens of the sad stories you experience on shift.
Related Reading: Best Ways to Deal with Compassion Fatigue in Nursing
Take care of yourself to boost your warmth for others.
You are important in-patient care, and you deserve to be treated well, too. Get enough rest, so that when you wake up, you’re ready to greet your next patient with a smile.
PRS GLOBAL WILL HELP YOU HONE YOUR EMPATHY FOR EXCELLENT PATIENT CARE
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1 Norouzinia, Roohangiz, et al. “Communication Barriers Perceived by Nurses and Patients.” Global Journal of Health Science, vol. 8, no. 6, 2015, p. 65, https://doi.org/10.5539/gjhs.v8n6p65.
2 Stewart, David. “‘The Greatest Threat to Global Health Is the Workforce Shortage’ International Council of Nurses International Nurses Day Demands Action on Investment in Nursing, Protection, and Safety of Nurses.” ICN, www.icn.ch/news/greatest-threat-global-health-workforce-shortage-international-council-nurses-international. Accessed 6 June 2023.
3 “7 Adult Learning Styles Explained.” Dean College, www.dean.edu/news-events/dean-college- blog/story/adult-learning-styles-getting-most-out-continuing-education-experience/. Accessed 6 June 2023.